Tall Task for New Top Man at UM

Interpublic Media Agency Has Struggled to Stand Apart From McCann

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In the past few years, Interpublic, with a lot of loud talk and routine facelifts, has been the Joan Rivers of agency-media operations. With its most recent nip and tuck, it seems like it finally has the face it needs to move forward and better compete with rivals WPP Group and Publicis Groupe.
Last week, the third-largest holding company named Nick Brien the head of its newly formed media unit, Mediabrands. Joining the company in a surprise poaching is Matt Seiler, who will take over Mr. Brien's role as the global CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann. Mr. Seiler was responsible for helping Omnicom Group's PHD gain some much-needed momentum here as head of its North American operations, helping what had been a shop built to service Chrysler branch out into clients from Jim Beam to New Balance.

At Universal McCann, Mr. Seiler will have a tall task: to help Universal McCann become more than just a media arm of McCann Erickson. Of all the media agencies that have spun out of creative agencies, Universal McCann has had the toughest time becoming a stand-alone operation that can reel in its own accounts. It relies heavily on McCann Worldgroup clients such as Microsoft and Sony. During his stint as chief, Mr. Brien helped the network gain some footing, but it'll be up to his successor to get the agency into more pitches and improve its reputation for yielding smart marketing strategies.

Mr. Seiler said he sees potential for creativity at Universal McCann because Mediabrands is new and has room to grow and change. He also said he views the "proximity" to McCann as a positive.

"When creative and media are one without worrying too much about whether [an idea] is initiated by one entity or another, there's great opportunity there," he said. "What the McCann group has to offer is a much bigger toolkit to use to really talk about doing things differently for a client."

Better environment
Mr. Seiler does enter a media operation that's vastly improved in recent years. With a revamped alignment of Universal McCann and Initiative, cost-cutting measures and a strong new-business showing from Initiative in North America, media operations have "dramatically improved," Interpublic CEO Michael Roth said in a recent earnings call with investors. One executive close to the matter estimated that Interpublic media lost nearly $40 million in 2006 but is likely to be up by more than that this year.

Outgoing CEO Mr. Brien has been a "major driver" in the turnaround efforts, the executive said, in his capacity as chief of a task force formed about eight months ago to streamline operations at Initiative and Universal McCann. Mr. Brien has been credited with helping eliminate back-office inefficiency and "duplicative infrastructure" at the holding company in his role.

Perhaps that's the same challenge Mr. Seiler saw at PHD when he took over as CEO during a time when the Omnicom shop was struggling for a bigger profile. Under Mr. Seiler's watch, PHD expanded its client roster and built a brand associated with strong communications planning; Daryl Simm, CEO of Omnicom Media Group, said in a 2005 interview that Mr. Seiler helped make PHD a "bona fide media network."

Mr. Seiler's departure is no doubt a loss for PHD, but Mike Cooper, PHD's global CEO, said he believes the agency won't miss a beat, given what he calls "a very strong management group" in North America. Mr. Cooper cited recent wins of New Balance's global media account and Cadbury media in the U.K. and Ireland as proof that PHD is picking up global momentum.

"In all honesty, I don't anticipate any impact on our existing business," Mr. Cooper said. "We are doing very well globally at the moment."

No official successor has been chosen for Mr. Seiler, but the interim team is composed of managing partners Jennifer Neal, John Swift, Susan Taylor and Fred Foster, who works out of Canada. Mike Cooper, PHD's global CEO, who is based in London, plans to spend about half his time in the U.S. offices.
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